Women's League of Health and Beauty

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Mary Meta Bagot Stack (1883—1935) health and fitness expert


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A mass fitness movement established in the 1930s by Mary Bagot Stack. The league's motto, ‘Movement is life’, expressed its evangelical message, though its first stated aim of cultivating ‘racial health’ indicated its imperialist, elite premises and racist overtones. The league's membership rose to 60,000, ‘based on its judicious appeal to an older, class-bound, service-motivated, maternal femininity, while having a modern, mass-market, commercial style’ (Jill Julius Matthews, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004; see too her ‘ “They had such a lot of fun”: The Women's League of Health and Beauty between the Wars’, History Workshop Journal, 30, 1990). The league staged high-profile demonstrations of its mass exercise programmes in Hyde Park, London, and at the Albert Hall and Wembley Stadium (in 1950, for instance), and marketed recordings of exercise instructions on the new gramophone technology. Bagot Stack's daughter Prunella remained a staunch defendant of the league's values throughout her life.

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